Pelaw Wood is located east of Durham City on the north-eastern upstream bank of the River Wear between Gilesgate and Old Durham. Easy ways in are from: the footpath at the end of St. Giles Close DH1 1XH off the eastern or upper end of Gilesgate Green; or from the riverside footpath upstream from the City. Google map.
The Wood has an area of 12.8 hectares and contains a variety of natural habitats, including beech and oak woodland, birch and larch woodland, a steep sided gully containing Pelaw Wood Beck and an area of open scrubland to the east.
Footpaths lead into the wood from a number of locations. The most widely used of these are the footpaths that lead off the towpath on the north-eastern bank of the River Wear, the footpath off St. Giles Close leading over Silverlink Bridge, and the footpath from the field to the east of the main wood adjacent to Laurel Avenue School.
Derivation of the name Pelaw
Pellow 1420, Pella 1733, Pelloe 1776, Pellow 1838. Pelaw is of uncertain meaning. Possibly a hill or hill-spur. Old English hlaw is a hill and hoh is a hill-spur. Middle English pele is a shovel-shaped piece of land or a watchtower.
The land initially rises steeply from about 40 m alongside the river to 85 m as it levels off in the east. Pelaw Wood Beck flows east to west in a steep sided valley forming the northern boundary of the wood.
Pelaw Wood lies within the incised lowland valley of the River Wear. The lowlands of the River Wear occupy a broad area between the limestone escarpment in the east and the spurs of Pennine fringe ridges. The River Wear carves an incised meandering course between steep bluffs and river terraces and this corridor is well wooded.
You can read more about the geology of Pelaw Wood.
History of Pelaw Wood
These woods were once owned by the Londonderry family who inherited them from Frances Tempest, the widow of the Rev. Sir Henry Vane, when she married the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. The Tempest family had themselves inherited the woods from their ancestors the Heaths of Kepier and Old Durham. John Heath, Warden of the Fleet, purchased the lands of the dissolved hospital of Kepier which included Old Durham and Pelaw Wood in 1569.
In 1918 Pelaw Wood were presented to the City of Durham by the 7th Marquis of Londonderry in memory of his father the 6th Marquis.
You can read a more detailed history of Pelaw Wood.
Old Durham Gardens are adjacent to the Wood.